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Did Former Marine Jimmy Massey Lie About U.S. Military Atrocities in Iraq? A Debate Between Massey and Embedded Reporter Ron Harris

StoryNovember 14, 2005
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Did former U.S, marine Jimmy Massey lie or exaggerate about killing civilians in Iraq to the media? Ron Harris, a reporter embedded with Massey’s battalion says Massey’s claims are not credible. We host a debate with Massey and Harris. [includes rush transcript]

Jimmy Massey is a 12-year veteran of the U.S Marine Corps who participated in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Before going to war, Massey was a Marine recruiter and boot camp drill instructor. But his experiences in Iraq caused him to have a change of heart. After he was honorably discharged in December of 2003 he vehemently spoke out against the war, and help found Iraq Veterans Against the War. Massey also confessed to participating in and witnessing atrocities while in Iraq and these accounts were published in newspapers and magazines across the country.

Massey also made international headlines in December of 2004 when he testified on behalf of war resister Jeremy Hinzman at a refugee hearing in Canada. At the time, Massey told Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board “I do know that we killed innocent civilians.” He then recounted how US forces once fired up to 500 rounds of ammunition into four cars filled with civilians after they failed to stop at a checkpoint. On the next day, he said he witnessed Marines shooting dead four unarmed Iraqi demonstrators. Massey has written an autobiography titled “Kill, Kill, Kill” that was recently published in France.

Earlier this month, Ron Harris a reporter at the St. Louis Dispatch who was embedded with the Marines, wrote a series of articles claiming that Massey lied or exaggerated his claims. Harris writes that statements from Massey’s fellow Marines, Massey’s own conflicting accounts and the five journalists who were embedded with Massey’s unit, discredit his allegations.

Following the article by Ron Harris, the editorial page editor of the Sacramento Bee–one of the first newspapers to publish Massey’s story in May 2004–says they should have looked more into the credibility of the story. David Holwerk writes, “We should have done more to check the truth of Massey’s charges before deciding whether to publish them” he goes on to write that running the story, “raises serious questions about The Bee’s performance.”

Meanwhile, columnist Michelle Malkin writes, “Jimmy was Michael Moore, Cindy Sheehan and John Kerry all wrapped up into one tidy, soundbite-friendly package — a poster boy for peace topped off by a military uniform and tattoos to boot. But like a lot of the agitators who pose as well-meaning, good-faith peace activists, Jimmy Massey was something else: A complete fraud.”

Massey has responded with an article posted on the Web. He sticks by his account of atrocities in Iraq and accuses Ron Harris of retaliating against him for calling attention to what he says was his inaccurate reporting while embedded in Iraq.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Jimmy Massey joins us from Miami. Ron Harris is on the line with us from Washington D.C. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!

JIMMY MASSEY: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, why don’t we start off with Jimmy Massey. Your response to the allegations that you have been inaccurate?

JIMMY MASSEY: Yeah, the most important point is that Ron Harris openly admits he cannot read or speak French. Therefore, he has never read the book, which is where the whole truth with no secondhand information can be found.

AMY GOODMAN: Ron Harris. What are your main concerns about Jimmy Massey’s account of his time in Iraq?

RON HARRIS: Let me just respond to that really quickly. No, I don’t read French, but I interviewed the author of the book, and she said there’s also — in that book there’s no corroboration of any of Jimmy Massey’s claims. And that’s the big problem here, that Jimmy Massey makes a lot of claims, but at no point, not on your show in his previous interview or at any point, has he introduced any evidence that shows that any of these claims are true. That’s number one. And number two, he has actually retracted statements that he made, again on your show and in other newspapers.

He claimed that he saw tractor-trailers filled with bodies of innocent civilians, men, women and children who had been killed by U.S. bombs and artillery. And when I asked him about it, he said 'Well, actually, I didn't see it. I heard about it.’ Well, I did see those tractor-trailers. In fact, Andy Cutraro of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch took photographs of those trailers, and in those trailers were bodies of all men, the vast majority dressed in green military uniform.

Jimmy Massey claimed that he saw a four-year-old girl shot in the head. It’s not true. When I interviewed him he said, “Well, I actually didn’t see a four-year-old girl shot in the head, but I heard about it. I was there when she got shot, and the other Marines told me about it.” Well, again we were there at that same incident in which he claimed Lima Company, which is one of the companies, shot that girl. Well, there was no four-year-old girl shot in that shot [inaudible]. Did the Marines shoot innocent civilians? You bet. They did shoot innocent civilians. We reported it, we took photographs of it, we published it. But in that case there was no four-year-old girl.

He claimed on three occasions that he shot a six-year-old girl in the head and killed her. Then when I asked him about it, he said, “Well, actually, I didn’t do it, but my unit did it.” So, his claims go back and forth and go back and forth, and then he’s admitted that some of this stuff is not true, and then again, you know, when I try to verify these claims and interview the people who were there, including all of the journalists who were there, and we certainly weren’t about the business of covering up what the Marines did. As I pointed out earlier, I reported that, in fact, on the second day of the war, Marines shot and killed a British television crew. So, it is not my job nor my desire to cover up for the Marine Corps, and that hasn’t been part of my performance.

AMY GOODMAN: We are going to go to break, and we’re going to come back to this discussion. Ron Harris is the Washington correspondent of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He was embedded with Marines in Iraq. Jimmy Massey is a former Marine staff sergeant, honorably discharged in December 2003.


AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are Ron Harris, Washington correspondent of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Jimmy Massey, former Marine staff sergeant, honorably discharged in December 2003. When Jimmy Massey returned from Iraq, he said he engaged in the murdering of civilians in Iraq and has told the story throughout the country. Jimmy Massey speaking to us from Miami, Ron Harris from Washington D.C. Can you respond to some of what Ron Harris said from tractor-trailers filled with bodies to the killing of a four-year-old and six-year-old girl?

JIMMY MASSEY: Sure. The makeshift morgue was definitely — I admit it was secondhand information that I did receive from other Marines, and I did make that point clear in the book, that it was secondhand information.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain, what was the story that you told about the tractor-trailers?

JIMMY MASSEY: Yes, I had told about Marines discovering tractor-trailers loaded with bodies. Now, what is so specific about this is Mr. Harris quotes Lieutenant Colonel Belcher in a series of reports, saying that the bodies had tear wounds, shrap metal wounds, and what Mr. Harris says is the word “apparently.” And I know from talking with other journalists that you never use the word “apparently.” So he is actually speaking from secondhand information about the makeshift morgue, but it was hearsay from other Marines, but I put it as hearsay in my book.

The four-year-old child —- the only person that actually mentions the four-year-old child is Mr. Harris. There is an internet site when you pull up or you google “four-year-old child,” and when you google “four-year-old child,” it’s actually Mr. Harris’s report. And it says that another company or another Marine from Lima Company witnessed the four-year-old child. So I never -—

RON HARRIS: No, let me read it to you right now as it was reported in Gainesville, Florida, on September 8, on a Thursday. “Massey said he saw a four-year-old girl with a bullet hole in her head,” quote, and you can’t take that back.

JIMMY MASSEY: Mr. Harris —

RON HARRIS: I’m just telling you. I’ll bring you the article. That’s one article, and there is another one.

JIMMY MASSEY: No, no, no, Mr. Harris, where you had your information mistaken is it’s a six-year-old child, and what I used to say is — this is how I would rebuttle Lieutenant Shea and Captain Schmidt — I would say, “How is a six-year-old child with a bullet hole in its head a terrorist?” It’s a rhetorical question. You took that out of context, Mr. Harris.

RON HARRIS: No, no, no, sir, this is a quote from a newspaper in Florida in which you were on a tour and you were on a tour bus and you said —- here it is right here: “Former Marine sergeant, Jimmy Massey, was part of the invasion in Iraq in January of 2003, but he was sent home after five months of service for voicing his distaste of the shootings of Iraqi civilians,” quote. “'We are just calling everybody terrorists,' he said. Massey said he saw a four-year-old Iraqi girl with a bullet hole in her head.” I didn’t make that up. I don’t even know anything about that, sir, and as for your statement that -—

JIMMY MASSEY: Well, that is a misprint in the newspaper.

RON HARRIS: It’s a misprint in the newspaper. Now, you’ve said that twice. That’s just one occasion.

JIMMY MASSEY: Now, what I do remember saying, though, is that a six-year-old — “How is a six-year-old child with a bullet hole in its head a terrorist?” That is what I remember saying.

RON HARRIS: You said that. But you said that in Cornell University in March, and you said, “How is a six-year-old girl with a bullet hole” —

JIMMY MASSEY: And that is a question that I used to ask to Lieutenant Shea and to Captain Schmidt.

RON HARRIS: You said, “How is a six-year-old girl with a bullet in his head a terrorist? Because that is the youngest I killed.”

JIMMY MASSEY: That is the youngest that we killed, meaning the battalion.

RON HARRIS: Then during a speech in April, you know, you were quoted saying, “That’s war: A six-year-old girl with a bullet hole in her head at an American checkpoint.” Then turned around in Syracuse in March, you turn and you said, “The reason the Marines teach you discipline is so that you can confront the enemy and kill him or put a bullet into a six-year-old girl” —

JIMMY MASSEY: Well, let me ask you this, Mr. Harris. Since you know so much about the Marine Corps, can you tell me the mission of the Marine Corps? What is the mission of the Marine Corps, sir? It’s to locate and dispose with —

AMY GOODMAN: Alright, let’s do this one at a time.

RON HARRIS: — also, “You can put a bullet into a six-year-old, which is what I did.” I wouldn’t have a clue about what Jimmy Massey claimed or said he did about four-year-old girls or six-year-old girls or six-year-old boys unless he had made those claims somewhere else, because I don’t follow Jimmy Massey around. I didn’t have a clue about any of this until we were preparing to go back to Iraq and a person in my newspaper said, “You know, you should look into this Jimmy Massey guy, because he is making all of these claims.”

JIMMY MASSEY: Let me ask you this, Mr. Harris, what type of ammunition does a 50-caliber machine gun use in a CAT platoon?

RON HARRIS: I would think it would use 50-caliber machine guns.

JIMMY MASSEY: Okay. And what type of ammunition is used? 50-caliber, right? What type? What type of ammunition?

RON HARRIS: I have not a clue.

JIMMY MASSEY: Armor-piercing incendiary depleted uranium rounds.

RON HARRIS: What does that have to do with anything?

JIMMY MASSEY: What that has to do with, you reported several times from Lieutenant Colonel Belcher that you heard secondary explosions in your report.

RON HARRIS: I never said that.

JIMMY MASSEY: Yes, you did. I’m asking you how is — and why didn’t you, when we were talking about weapons of mass destruction, why didn’t you report that the depleted uranium rounds were being used, when we were supposed to be, in fact, looking for weapons of mass destruction, which your report in Salman Pak was totally incorrect. You made it sound like that we found tons of supplies of chemical ammunitions, which was totally untrue. If that was true, then we could have ended the war right there and said that we found weapons of mass destruction.

RON HARRIS: Whoa, whoa, I never reported —

AMY GOODMAN: Alright, let’s get an answer. Ron Harris.

RON HARRIS: I never reported that we found tons of chemical weapons in Salman Pak.

JIMMY MASSEY: You reported that we found laboratories where supposed chemical munitions were being manufactured at Salman Pak.

RON HARRIS: I can pull that story up, if you want, but —

JIMMY MASSEY: Yeah, I’ve got the story right here, Mr. Harris.

RON HARRIS: If that’s what the Marine Corps reported, then that’s what we reported.

JIMMY MASSEY: Oh, wait a minute. So you’re saying you report what the Marine Corps reports?

RON HARRIS: Let’s get clear on something, Jimmy.

JIMMY MASSEY: So you mean to tell me — no, no, no, explain to me, how does the briefing actually take place? When you sit down with Lieutenant Colonel Belcher and the major and the X.O. and the gunner of the battalion, what do they tell you prior to you going into an area? Because I’ll tell you what, you were never present at any of the times when the civilian casualties and the shootings took place. The only time you showed up, sir, was afterwards, and then you were briefed. And then you were briefed by other Marines.

AMY GOODMAN: Jimmy, let’s let Ron Harris respond.

RON HARRIS: Number one, that’s not true. It is not true, number one, that we were not present at those incidents.

JIMMY MASSEY: Where were you at, sir? At the Rashid compound, where were you at?

RON HARRIS: Can I finish? In fact, that’s why we have the photographs of the civilians who got shot.

JIMMY MASSEY: You have — where are they at, sir? In the Rashid compound, you have pictures?

RON HARRIS: Can I finish? Can I finish? We shot photographs and were there when the Marines shot those women in that car. The one where you claim the four-year-old kid got killed. That didn’t happen.

JIMMY MASSEY: And once again, the four-year-old child was hearsay from other Marines, and I did note that in the book.

RON HARRIS: Like a lot of things are.

JIMMY MASSEY: Like a lot of things that you report, too, sir.

RON HARRIS: Well, whatever. But the thing is, Jimmy, here is the deal. Can you offer any corroboration, any whatsoever, any Marine on deep background? Anybody? And the fact is you can’t. I have walked back through those things and the thing about it, Jimmy, if those things are true, man, we would be — I would be, you know, happy to report them. Like I said, we don’t — we’re not hiding anything that the Marines did. You can look at my stories, and you can see that Ron Harris did not hide anything that the Marines did.

JIMMY MASSEY: Alright, Mr. Harris, here’s the thing. Brad Gaumont —


JIMMY MASSEY: He repeated —

AMY GOODMAN: Who is that?

JIMMY MASSEY: See, you don’t even know who Brad Gaumont is. He was the gunner that was in Lieutenant Shea’s vehicle. You don’t even have a clue about what you are talking about. Harris, you didn’t interview Brad Gaumont either. If you did, Gaumont didn’t repeat what he said into a Danish reporter’s tape recorder last year, referring to civilians who were killed, “They had it coming anyways. Iraqis are scumbags.” You also quoted —

RON HARRIS: Wait, wait.

AMY GOODMAN: And you’re saying that is, that was the gunner, quoted by Dutch reporters?

JIMMY MASSEY: And that was Lieutenant Shea’s gunner, the lead vehicle.

RON HARRIS: Did he say that —- as I said, I have asked every journalist that was in that -—

JIMMY MASSEY: Not journalist, sir. I’m talking about individual Marines. Did you actually go up and interview these actual Marines?

RON HARRIS: I did interview lots of Marines.

JIMMY MASSEY: And who did you interview, sir? Who did you interview at the Rashid compound? Because I would like to know. I have comments in quotes from those Marines, because we called and we recorded their information before we wrote the book, and they all rogered up to the fact that, yes, there were innocent civilians that was killed at the Rashid military complex.

RON HARRIS: Jimmy, you didn’t do that.

JIMMY MASSEY: Sir, I have them on voice recording.

RON HARRIS: Jimmy, if you had all that, you would have presented it.

JIMMY MASSEY: I have it, sir.

RON HARRIS: You wouldn’t present it.

JIMMY MASSEY: Do you want me to get a recorder and bring it? What?

RON HARRIS: I presented the information. I’ve interviewed Marines. I’ve interviewed journalists. I’ve interviewed everybody that I could put my hands on that was there, and I’ve tried, not to disprove what you said, to prove what you said.

JIMMY MASSEY: Okay, here is another one, sir. Jeffrey Fowler —

RON HARRIS: Jimmy, can I finish?


RON HARRIS: Thank you. Let’s just tone it down. I tried to prove what you said, not to disprove what you said. That’s not my goal, to disprove what you said. If what you said was true, then I certainly —

JIMMY MASSEY: What the question is, is you did no investigative journalism whatsoever while you were in Iraq, and now you complied with what Lieutenant Colonel Belcher said on these particular incidents. The true question is that embedded journalism is not working in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking —

RON HARRIS: Jimmy, when I was in Iraq and in the Rashid complex being shot at just like you and other Marines —

JIMMY MASSEY: You were never — How were you shot at, sir? Who shot at you? Because if you were in the position that I was in, I was never shot at at Rashid, so that goes to further prove that you weren’t there.

AMY GOODMAN: Let him respond. Jimmy, let him respond. Let him respond to the question of how Ron Harris was shot at.

RON HARRIS: Not only was I being shot at, also we have photographs of the Marines being shot at, photographs of the Marines returning fire. Mike Phillips, Wall Street Journal, was there, he was being shot at. Ron Haviv of VII Agency, he was there, he was being shot at. Andrew Cutraro shot the photographs. Now, as you and I both know, the Rashid Military Complex is very large, and I took you at your word. I said, 'Well, maybe Jimmy was at a location where these nine protesters got shot, and I wasn't there. Maybe he was on a whole other side.’ And I said, 'Maybe that's true. Let me track that information down.’ And Jimmy, I can’t corroborate that at all. And that’s the thing is that —

JIMMY MASSEY: Well, yeah, okay, well, let me ask you this.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait, wait. Jimmy Massey, why don’t you respond to that about protesters being shot?

JIMMY MASSEY: First, I would like to say, why would the military admit to atrocities now? They’ve never admitted to atrocities in Vietnam. And then, furthermore, Mr. Fowler, Corporal Fowler: “There were no explosives but it was highly probable there could have been weapons. We were all” — this is an exact quote from Mr. Fowler. “We were all pissed off at shooting women and children. Nobody was doing it on purpose, but they were doing it. They were killing civilians and plenty of them.”

RON HARRIS: Wait, but you said nobody was doing it on purpose?

AMY GOODMAN: He’s quoting. You are quoting Fowler?

JIMMY MASSEY: Yes, I’m quoting from Fowler, yes.

RON HARRIS: Who is — You’re quoting from Fowler. He said —- you are right, Jimmy. In fact, the second shooting of civilians -—


RON HARRIS: Can I finish?

JIMMY MASSEY: Sure, sure. I’m sorry.

RON HARRIS: The second shooting of civilians that we reported, the way I found out about it, Marines were pissed off. And they were pissed off at each other. They were pissed off that somebody had accidentally shot some civilians, and they were furious.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m going to interrupt, because we just have 30 seconds. Jimmy Massey, you are known for saying in different places and in graphic testimony at the Canadian tribunal, probing an asylum claim by Jeremy Hinzman, that you were involved with the killing, your unit killed more than 30 innocent Iraqi civilians in just two days. Do you stand by what you said?

JIMMY MASSEY: No, I actually have to retract that. It wasn’t until I sat down and I starting writing the book that I realized that it was actually 30 over a three-month time period. It took me sitting down with counselors and therapists and actually writing the book, which was a form of therapy for me, to recall and to have these flashbacks. So, that was an error on my part. It was 30-plus over a three-month time period.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. Jimmy Massey, former Marine staff sergeant, honorably discharged in December 2003. Ron Harris, Washington correspondent of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. That does it for today’s broadcast. I want to thank you both for being with us.

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